It's been almost a week since the Washington Wizards played a game. That is crazy.
Coming off their third win in a row, a victory over the Boston Celtics last Saturday, the Wizards look for a clean sweep of their road trip as they face the under-performing Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota plays fast and is one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA, so this should be a good one.
Where and when? Tip-off is at 8 p.m. in Minnesota.
Are they good? Yes and no. Minnesota started out hot this year but have dropped six of their last ten games and are only 13-15 on the year. The thing is, they have the point differential, which is usually a more reliable long-term indicator of how good a team really is than the simple W/L record, of a 17-11 team per Basketball-Reference. Basically, the Wolves have had horrible luck late in games and typically win by a lot or lose by very little. Some of this could be tied to a middling half-court offense that's still coming together and lacks a true one-on-one scorer or go-to play that the team can run again and again in crunch time. They've also played the NBA's sixth most difficult schedule so far, so things should turn around for them soon.
Who's out? The Wizards are going to be missing Al Harrington again but are otherwise fine. Minnesota is going to be without former Wizard Ronny Turiaf and Chase Buddinger.
What are they good at? When you look at it on a per possession basis, the Wolves are actually equally good at offense and defense, ranking tenth in the NBA in both offensive rating and defensive rating. Digging a little deeper, they're excellent at cleaning the offensive glass (fourth in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage), getting to the line (fifth in free throw attempts per field goal attempt) and not fouling (first in opponent free throw attempts per field goal attempt). As is typical of a Rick Adelman-coached team, the Wolves moved the ball very well in the half court and love to get out in transition, both of which tend to lead to a lot of free throws and three pointers.
What are they bad at? Minnesota is only 26th in the NBA in effective field goal percentage, which probably has something to do with their inability to win close games. Basically, the Wolves are good at getting to the line and taking a lot of shots per possession due to their offensive rebounding so the offense is good, but they're not very accurate when it comes to taking normal jumpers in the half court. Ricky Rubio's inability to shoot from really anywhere other than behind the arc (he's making 34.6% of his two pointers this year - basically a Rubio two is only marginally more likely to go in than a John Wall three) and at the free throw line hurts the team a lot here, as opposing defenses are able to sag off of him and more easily help when players like Love and Pekovic get the ball.
What happened the last time they played? Washington won 104-100 and crushed it in the fourth quarter. Martell Webster had a big game and Rubio sat for a lot of the second half, something the likely won't happen tonight.
Who's going to win tonight? This is a toss up in my opinion. Washington, when healthy, is a very good team and struggled for most of the game before coming back to beat the Timberwolves in Washington last month. Still, this game is in Minnesota and when fairly evenly matched teams play, home court advantage is usually enough to swing a game. I'm going with Minnesota tonight, and expect Love to have a big game. If Washington's going to win, it's probably going to be a result of good transition defense and Nene and/or Trevor Booker being able to successfully prevent Love from killing Washington from deep.